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Brands are not leveraging all the opportunities that the new India offers: Rama Bijapurkar

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Brands are not leveraging all the opportunities that the new India offers: Rama Bijapurkar

“I am going to speak on whatever is occupying my mind today. Some of it is from my new book and some are just old fashioned rambling,” said Rama Bijapurkar at the outset of her address at the third edition of IMPACT Top 50 Influential Women, held in Mumbai on March 19, 2014. The event was presented by Colors. Bijapurkar leads the list of IMPACT Top 50 Influential Women 2014
Rama Bijapurkar leads the list of IMPACT Top 50 Most Influential Women 2014

The noted market strategy consultant and author then proceeded to challenge the audience to start thinking about how to fit into a society which has changed (and is changing) beyond expectations.

Bijapurkar opined that brands are perhaps getting too focused on single objectives and missing the larger picture. Citing the example of the fabled story of Arjuna and the “eye of the bird”, a tale considered to be the ultimate example of determination and attention, she said, “Increasingly, I have been thinking that in our field of work we are so focused on the eye that we have lost touch with what else is going on. The analogy for us is not a wooden fish, unchanging and static, but the fish living inside the pond, where the contents of the pond and the fish are always changing.”

Quoting DevduttPatnaik’s statement about being “gaze focused” and “goal focused”, she added that perhaps the current situation was more akin to looking for a black cat in a dark room, where the animal in the room might actually turn out to be a dog. Bijapurkar’s point was that India and the Indian society have changed tremendously and, perhaps, marketers and agencies need to realise that the age-old suppositions and hypothesis might no longer hold true. “A new India has sneaked upon us. This maybe because the lenses we have been using to look for change weren’t good enough or maybe they already had pictures imprinted on them, which made it difficult to see the things that were actually happening,” she opined.

So, what does this bode for the marketer? According to Bijapurkar, brands are not leveraging all the opportunities that this new India offers oraddressing it (the new India) in a way that enables it to benefit from all the things brands can offer. The hall mark of a consumer-driven economy, according to her, is to add value for the consumers and to extract value. “The ‘dharma’ is not to push the consumer, yelling and screaming, to some notion of modernity that another country has or what multi-nationals tell us to do,” she said.

One way of achieving this, Bijapurkarsaid, is through innovation, something that is considered a Holy Grail. But to achieve innovation in existing products or create innovative new products, it is essential to understand the new world. “We need to study this new world more deeply we find ourselves in to see how we can come out with innovations in products or new products that will improve consumers’lives. It is the context of their lives rather than the specifics of what they buy that is more important. Let’s not work with an old paradigm, which we tweak to make it fit the situation,” she advised brands.

Pointing out the huge differences in the Indian society, Bijapurkar gave the example of social media, something usually considered to be the domain of the young. But, she argues, this is also a medium where people wonder whether posting a mantra a number of times will earn them the same “punya”, as reciting it would. She puts this as seeing different parts of the elephant, when what is now needed more than ever is to see the beast as a whole.

Speaking on the subject of women, she asked, “We know women have gotten more assertive, but do we really understand how gender equations have changed? Do we know what happens in the second or third level when children are brought up by more assertive mothers than before? Maybe we understand it for part of the segments, but do we understand it for the rest?”

She gave the example of one of her peers, a social scientist, who statedon the topic of politics and the upcoming electionsthat “when there is a crisis of confidence or trust, the public opinion tends to stray towards either the populist or the authoritarian”.She charged the audience with thinking whether this also holds true for brands. “We are seeing change in culture at every level – whether national, regional gender, generation, social class, religion, family, etc. What opportunities do all these throw up?” she asked.

Bijapurkar was also critical of the usage of the term ‘middle-class’. According to her, if you remove the top 20 per cent in the society, everybody else is middle class. “The middle-class is the new upper class and they are all ready and waiting. The task before is how do we add value and extract value. How do we shape the consumption course of this new society? The race is yet to begin, but we can create a far more vibrant consumer economy than we have created so far,” she concluded.

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